Congress should “go big and go bold” in closing the digital divide, says former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
Clyburn was one of several witnesses testifying during a House Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday on the legislation the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s (Lift) America Act (HR-2741). The bill, refiled last week, would allocate $40 billion for broadband deployment and $12 billion in grants to upgrade aging 911 systems.
Speaking of the $40 billion in broadband deployment funding, Clyburn said: “This level of investment is necessary.” The Act should direct investment to both rural and urban areas that lack any broadband access, she said.
She agrees with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly who says the U.S. should aim to avoid duplication so the money goes as far as possible. That means “funds should to areas not receiving other funds now,” she said. Clyburn also recommends the bill include language to require federal and state government agencies to talk to each other and coordinate their broadband deployment efforts.
Asked what will happen if America doesn’t make this effort now, the former Commissioner said: “It will allow individuals to make a choice whether to stay or leave. Now, we’re forcing young people to leave these communities,” which is “causing a brain drain.”
There was some disagreement over the necessary speeds. Daniel Lyons, a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said 25 Mpbs is enough while Clyburn said the country should be aiming to provide 1 Gigabit speed, the minimum that other countries are providing.
Lawmakers and Clyburn agreed accurate mapping is needed to determine where funds should go. The FCC has an open proceeding to upgrade its mapping; Clyburn recommends that be acted on quickly. Public-private partnerships can also be helpful, on this point, she noted, citing an effort by USTelecom and WISPA that includes crowd-sourcing map data.
Concerning the money to upgrade 911 call centers, Clyburn said: “Too many call centers can’t take texts.” The bill would fund NextGen 911 abilities like video, texts and photos, rather than “maintaining a 50-year-old framework, which is what we’re doing now.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
May 23, 2019